There's no doubt that one of the biggest regular expenses in the kitchen is food. It's also the case that we throw away a criminal amount of food between us. In the UK it is estimated that 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away every year and the majority of this could have been eaten. Often people either don't use everything that they've bought, or they cook more than they need and the leftovers end up in the bin.
The best way to minimise food waste is to reduce the amount you buy in the first place and planning what you are going to eat can help with this hugely. It may be that in your household you can plan a whole week in advance, but if plans change frequently it may be better just to plan three or four days in advance.
When you start a meal plan it should be based around what fresh food you already have in the kitchen that needs to be used up within a certain time frame. When new ingredients are needed think about what quantity you need and how much you have to buy. So for instance, if a meal on Monday requires half a bag of potatoes, make sure that there is a meal elsewhere in the plan that makes use of the other half the bag.
For each meal in the plan take into account how many people you are catering for and also whether or not there would be a benefit in cooking a larger quantity so that spare portions could either be eaten later in the week, or frozen for a later date. If the whole family is having dinner one evening, but the next day there is only you for lunch there could be benefit in just making an extra portion and having that the next day. Likewise, make sure you consider if you already have anything in the freezer that should be used up.
If planning for a whole week try to have at least one meal in there that if necessary can be delayed if plans change. One dish that is based on either long life fresh ingredients, or ones from the store-cupboard can easily be slipped back into the following week's menu if required without anything going to waste.
Once you've planned your menu, write your shopping list from it. This allows you time to check whether or not any of your staples need topping up, so you only buy what you really need.
I have a simple meal planning system that I use – a table that I fill in for each week. The rows are the days of the week and against each I have four columns; breakfast, lunch, dinner and shopping list. The first three coloums are self-explanatory, but in the final one I just jot down what things need adding to my shopping list for that day's meals. It's a good way to make sure I don't forget anything.
If you liked this post then you might also be interested in reading my Thrifty Friday Five In the kitchen.